HM Prison Swaleside
HM Prison Swaleside is a Category B adult male prison located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. First opened in 1988, Swaleside has faced issues with overcrowding, violence, and providing purposeful activity for prisoners. However, recent years have seen efforts to improve safety, security, and rehabilitation programs.
Security Category and Capacity
Swaleside is classified as a Category B prison, holding prisoners for whom escape must be made difficult. The original design capacity was 504 prisoners, but various expansions have increased it to 1112.
Population and Demographics
As of August 2022, the prisoner population stood at 1100. Over half are serving life sentences, with Swaleside being a main center for lifers in their early years of sentence. Around 30-40% come from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Wings and Units
The main residential wings are A-H, holding between 120-179 prisoners each. There is also a Segregation Unit of 25 cells and an Inpatient Healthcare Unit of 17 beds.
Facilities and Regime
Education and Training
Education at Swaleside is provided by Canterbury College, with courses from basic skills up to Open University level degrees. Vocational training workshops are also available in areas like industrial cleaning and horticulture.
Work and Employment
Prison work involves industrial cleaning, engineering, textiles, recycling activities, gardens and farming. However, there are too few places to occupy the majority of prisoners. Most spend large amounts of time locked in their cells.
Daily Routine and Time Out of Cells
A typical day involves early morning unlock and then lockup from morning to afternoon. Evening association time allows access to communal facilities. But overall, prisoners can spend over 22 hours a day confined to cells.
Safety and Security
Violence and Lack of Safety
Surveys and reports have found high levels of violence at Swaleside. Prisoners report feeling unsafe due to gang issues and readily available drugs. Weak staff-prisoner relationships contribute to control problems.
Despite security efforts, various reports have found it too easy for prisoners to obtain drugs like cannabis, heroin substitute medications, and former legal highs like Spice. Their prevalence fuels violence and debt issues.
Like other prisons, Swaleside has suffered from staff shortages. Reduced officer numbers and high turnover has impacted dynamic security and positive engagement with prisoners.
Inspections and Reports
Praise for Improvements
Inspections have commended Swaleside for improvements made in areas like suicide prevention, sanitation, and food quality. Staff-prisoner relationships have been positively noted at times.
Criticisms and Recommendations
But recurring issues are lack of safety, time out of cell, and prisoner activity. Common recommendations are to boost staffing, reduce overcrowding, and expand employment, training and education.
- In 2002, a major disturbance occurred when prisoners refused to lockup.
- In 2006, an officer received jail time for attempting to smuggle cannabis in.
- In 2015, a prisoner was murdered by two fellow inmates on the wing.
- In 2016, a destructive riot broke out and inmates took over a wing.
Issues and Controversies
With the population exceeding 1,100 in a prison designed for 500, overcrowding is a constant issue. It puts strain on all aspects of the regime and fuels discontent.
Lack of Purposeful Activity
High lock-up times and too few activity places mean boredom and inactivity for many prisoners. This hinders rehabilitation and progression.
Poor Staff-Prisoner Relationships
Safety and control depends on positive engagement between officers and inmates. But staff shortages have weakened these bonds at Swaleside.
Investment in Security Technology
Updated CCTV, body scanners, phone blocking and other tech can boost security. But human intelligence is still vital.
More Focus on Rehabilitation
Greater access to education, skills training, work, and counseling could reduce reoffending rates. This requires adequate staffing and resources.
Swaleside faces difficulties with overcrowding, drugs, violence and keeping prisoners constructively occupied. While ongoing investment is required, there are also signs of progress in improving safety, cleanliness, and positive relations at the prison. A continued focus on rehabilitation programs and dynamic security can help manage problematic prisoners and provide hope for the future.
What type of prisoners are held at Swaleside?
Swaleside holds adult male prisoners, mostly Category B. Over half are serving life sentences and 30-40% are from minority ethnic backgrounds.
What facilities are provided for prisoner education and training?
Canterbury College delivers education including basic skills, vocational courses, and Open University degrees. Vocational workshops provide training in areas like industrial cleaning.
How many hours a day do prisoners typically spend locked in their cells?
Prisoners can spend over 22 hours confined to their cells on a typical day, leading to boredom and lack of purposeful activity.
What noteworthy incidents have occurred at the prison over the years?
There have been riots, disturbances, smuggling issues, and a prisoner murder over the years. A major riot took place in 2016.
What are some of the main ongoing issues and challenges at Swaleside?
Significant issues are overcrowding, lack of staff, readily available drugs, too little time unlocked, and too few activity places for prisoners.